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Tennessee Republicans and Democrats agree crime is a problem. They just argue on how to solve it.

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Posted at 5:04 PM, Sep 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-15 19:38:28-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Between a week of high-profile homicides in Memphis, and violent crime rates up overall in several Tennessee cities, state lawmakers are looking at ways to combat crime.

But other than agreeing that something has to be done, the only thing Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on is that the other party isn't doing enough.

"None of their so-called tough on crime bills have done anything to make our communities safer," said Rep. Vincent Dixie, the Tennessee Democratic Caucus Chair. "Republicans clearly have no solutions despite holding power in the legislature."

"We have crimes being committed by repeat offenders that we’ve been soft on," said Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, a Republican from Crossville. "For people to say we don’t need harsher, tougher, swifter sentences, is them just being soft."

Speaker Sexton wants to increase support for local law enforcement and pointed to his Truth in Sentencing law, which significantly increases prison sentences for convicted violent offenders.

"You can’t slap them on the wrist and let them go out, all you’re doing is emboldening them to do another crime," said Sexton.

But Rep. Dixie disagrees.

"You cannot increase punishment and expect a different result. We’ve seen this get tough-on-crime act before. It doesn’t work," he said during a Thursday morning news conference.

Dixie's solution is to invest in more crime prevention programs and to increase funding for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, that currently has a big backlog of rape kits. In Jackson, Tennessee alone, they're 11 months behind.

"They need funding to get these rape kits and processing done because there are people that are in jail who may not need to be in jail. There are people who are out of jail who are not in jail," said Dixie. "So justice is not being served right now."

Last year, the TBI asked for 40 new positions to help with the backlog, but Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee only granted half of those positions in the state budget.

"That was what the governor included in his budget was 20, so I would defer that question to the administration for that," said Speaker Sexton.

NewsChannel 5 reached out to Gov. Lee's communications team about TBI funding. The governor's office said they "can’t speak to political events."

For the next budget cycle, Sexton seems open to the idea of expanded funding for new positions.

"We’d be happy to fund additional if that’s what they need, but you know, that’s just one part of it," said Sexton.

Chairman Dixie hopes to take it a step further, increasing TBI salaries so that good agents and scientists are willing to stay.

"We have an issue of not being able to pay people the market rate for what they need in order to keep good quality employees and lab scientists and lab technicians in those positions," said Rep. Dixie.

There is one area where potentially both sides agree — both political leaders expressed the need for more crime prevention programs in schools that can keep kids out of trouble and in the classroom.